What Are Your Rights At The Border?

By Pace Law | September 16, 2015

Klaudios MustakasIn the past few years there have been a number of arrests at the border involving people with illicit images on their laptops and other electronic devices.

In this interview, Pace immigration senior adviser Klaudios Mustakas talks about a person’s rights at the border when they are being questioned by border officials.

Do people have to allow access to their computers and cell phones at the border?

Under the authority of the Customs Act, a Canada Border Service Officer has the authority to access a computer or cell phone when the owner of those devises attempts to enter Canada. There was a case earlier this year where a man wouldn’t give his cell phone password to officers at the border. He was arrested for hindering customs officials. The man says he will fight the charge in court, but I don’t think he will be successful.

What are officers looking for when they access phones and computers?

They are looking for pornography or hate crime material.

I’ve heard they can tear my car apart at the border. Is this true?

Yes. Under the Customs Act, an officer has the authority to search any convenience used to cross the border.

If I am arrested at the border, can I talk to a lawyer?

When an individual is arrested and detained by a Canada Border Service Agency Officer, the individual is given the reason for the arrest and the right to contact a lawyer without delay. If you can’t afford a lawyer, you may be entitled to legal aid. The Vienna Convention comes into effect for people who are not Canadian citizens. If this is the case, you have the right to notify your government of the arrest.

What happens if I have a criminal record. Can I still enter the country?

If the individual is not a Canadian citizen then they are normally inadmissible to enter Canada. Some exceptions are allowed depending on the nature of the offense and it’s equivalence to what’s in the Canadian Criminal Code. Admissibility also takes into account the seriousness of the offense, how many offenses you have, when an offense was committed, and when the sentence expired. But as a general rule, a criminal record will bar you from entering Canada. You should seek the advice of counsel before making the trip to the border.

Klaudios Mustakas is a former senior manager with the Canada Border Service Agency (CBSA) and Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC). He has 37 years of federal government service, including international diplomatic assignments in the United States and the Middle East. He retired as Chief, Enforcement (CBSA) in December, 2010.